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There Is No Single Player
By: Zachary Lewis
It's doubtful that anyone can honestly say the GameCube is an all-encompassing haven for RPGs. Likewise, there can't be more than a handful of gamers that will say the GCN to GBA connectivity feature has been well-used, well-done, or well-liked thus far in its functionality. Saying that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles does anything to change either of these bleak views of Nintendo's hardware would be a bald-faced lie, as the game is far from a masterpiece, and does little to put wind in the sails of the Big N.
Hack-and-slash adequately describes the very simple battle system in this action RPG. The only aspect of the game's battle engine that requires any skill is using magicite to cast spells; which really amounts to hitting a slightly different set of buttons than using your melee skills does, and maneuvering an aiming circle across the battlefield. Perhaps the only area where the game really shines is in its multi-player combat potential. Whereas spell fusions - essentially combining two or more spells into one area to create a larger effect - can be done automatically in single player mode, multi-player mode requires that each participating character cast their spells simultaneously on the same target area. One of the few limitations to how easy the game can be is imposed by the story-centric Miasma and the Myrrh Chalice - more commonly called 'the bucket'. Given that action RPGs tend to involve heavy amounts of strategic movement and distancing your characters from an enemy or location, the fact that the area you're allowed to safely explore and fight in is extremely small gives the game a feeling of artificial limitation.
Sadly, the directly action-oriented exploration scenes aren't the only things that impose an artificial limitation on you. The world map is divided up into several small 'districts' that are home to numerous battlefield scenes, all of which are directly in the middle, or on some branch of the main road. Basically, there is no exploration to be done in Crystal Chronicles, aside from what little you're allowed to do in the small action chapters. A bit of good news comes in knowing that the game controls smoothly and has a decent enough translation that it is easily playable to its conclusion. One of the few things that might stop a person from playing through it is the almost complete lack of a plot. Essentially, the world has been poisoned by a mutagenic gas known as 'Miasma' and the only thing keeping the remnants of civilization alive are the powerful Crystals of Life. However - and there's always a catch - the Crystals become polluted every year and must be cleansed by the Water of Life, or 'Myrrh'. It's your job to carry the bucket, which contains a small shard of the Crystal to keep you safe, to each Tree of Life and collect a droplet of Myrrh until you have enough to purge the taint from the Crystal in your hometown. Aside from the tiny bit of backstory that each battlefield gets introduced with, and a vague bit about the Lilties once controlling the world in the instruction manual, there isn't anything else deep or story-like about the game.
In terms of innovation, Crystal Chronicles cannot be faulted for utilizing the GCN to GBA linking. The fact of the matter is that, even if the game would work without the GBA - and it probably could - Game Designer Studios was created entirely by money donated to Squaresoft by Nintendo for the sole purpose of engendering a new development studio with the express purpose of making games to utilize the linking functionality. While it is possible that the multi-player aspect of the game seems too costly from one standpoint, consider that you're more likely to find four people with a Game Boy Advance than you are to find one person with a GameCube, statistically speaking. This in itself makes up for the cost of buying a link cable, especially if a group buys them and then continues to use them on future games that feature the ability to use them, such as Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure and PacMan.
Musically speaking, the game has a lot of repetitive instrumentation and happy-go-lucky feeling strewn about. Thankfully, the samples themselves are well done and of a high enough quality that the soundtrack never even approaches the need to hit 'mute'. Kumi Tanioka's Celtic theme and soft vocals sit very well with the light-hearted nature of the game itself. It should come as no surprise after Kingdom Hearts that Square Enix's voice acting remains superbly done in Crystal Chronicles. The quirky backstory told by the narrator at the start of each battlefield area adds what little plot development the game has, and should be a thing well looked upon, even if it fails to make the game an epic.
Although Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles never quite shakes its cartoony graphical feeling, the beautiful detail in everything and the fabulous texturing of objects is quite a sight to behold, and one rarely seen in RPGs for the GameCube, as few exist to tout the console's graphical prowess. The spell and attack effects leave a lot of room for improvement, but that is largely because there are so few spells and skills to have effects for. Some of the most gorgeous scenes in the game come when you cross through a Miasma Stream - the fields of thick poison that divide the world into districts - as these moments really hammer home how graphically gorgeous the GameCube can make things.
Before anyone attacks me for the opinion I hold about this game, remember that I consider myself a long-time Nintendo fanboy. When a game isn't good, it isn't good, and the fact that it was developed by Square Enix and funded by Nintendo won't change that fact. On the plus side, if you've got a truckload of friends capable of playing with you, and each of them owns a Game Boy Advance and a link cable, your money might still end up being well spent if you play it through to the end.
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